Systematic marine conservation planning in data-poor regions: Socioeconomic data is essential

Natalie C. Ban, Gretchen J.A. Hansen, Michael Jones, Amanda C.J. Vincent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Systematic planning for conservation is highly regarded but relies on spatially explicit data that are lacking in many areas of conservation concern. The decision support tool Marxan is applied to a reef system in the central Philippines where 30 marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in communities without much use of biophysical data. The intent was to explore how Marxan might assist with the legally required expansion to protect 15% of marine waters, and how existing MPAs might affect that process. Results show that biophysical information alone did not provide much guidance in identifying patterns of conservation importance in areas where the data are poor. Socioeconomic data were needed to distinguish among possible areas for protection; but here, as elsewhere in marine environments, the availability of such data was very limited. In the final analysis, local knowledge and integrated understanding of socioeconomic realities may offer the best spatially explicit information. The 30 existing MPAs, which encompassed a small proportion of the reef system, did not limit future options in developing a suite of MPAs on a broader scale. Rather, they appeared to generate the support for MPAs that is obligatory for any larger zoning effort. In summary, establishing MPAs based on community-driven criteria has biological and social value, but efforts should be made to collect ecological and socioeconomic data to guide the continued creation of MPAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)794-800
Number of pages7
JournalMarine Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This is a contribution from Project Seahorse. We are very grateful to the people of Danajon Bank for welcoming our support, and for having the insight and courage to create MPAs. We thank our colleagues in Project Seahorse and Project Seahorse Foundation in the Philippines for their hard work and dedication. We are grateful for the input of Les Kaufman and Maï Yasué in the conception of this work, to Maï Yasué and Janna Rist for comments on a previous version of the manuscript, and to Hazel Panes for providing strong in-country support. This analysis was supported by Conservation International, through its Marine Management Area Science programme, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. All Project Seahorse work has benefited from core support from the John G. Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, USA) and Guylian Chocolates Belgium, through their partnerships for marine conservation with Project Seahorse.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Conservation planning
  • Cost
  • Marine protected areas
  • Marine reserves
  • Marxan
  • Socioeconomic data


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